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Patrick Mannelly talks Bears career, college award, Justin Fields

Windy City Gridiron speaks with the Bears’ all-time leader in games played.

Chicago Bears v Arizona Cardinals

When you think of the greatest long snappers in NFL history, the first name that comes to your mind is probably Patrick Mannelly.

Whether you’re a Bears fan or not, Mannelly’s excellence over the course of his 16-year career has seen his name become synonymous with long snapping consistency. That has rung especially true since 2019, when the Patrick Mannelly Award started becoming awarded to the best long snapper in college football. He founded the award alongside long snapper trainer Chris Rubio and NFL agent Kevin Gold in hopes to give recognition to the unsung heroes of the game.

“I’m humbled,” Mannelly told Windy City Gridiron about being the namesake of the award. “We’re on Year 5 and this award and have five Patrick Mannelly Award winners. To be honest with you, it’s weird to say that; I normally just call it the long snapper award, just because I’m so humbled about it. I’m proud to have my name on there to let these kids be represented and compete against each other to be the nation’s top college long snapper.”

A committee consisting of former NFL special teamers, special teams coaches, sportswriters, trainers and agents help decide who wins the Patrick Mannelly Award. For the last three years, Zebra Technologies — the company behind Next Gen Stats — has sponsored the award.

“I really appreciate Zebra jumping on board and being our presenting sponsor,” Mannelly said. “They’re a perfect company to [sponsor the award], because they’re involved in sports...they basically give all the technology for the Next Gen Stats, so they can find out rotations on footballs, how fast guys are running, and then get all this data and give it to us as athletes, and it’s very helpful. It’s really cool to have them, because they are involved in football, as well.”

Through the partnership, Zebra Technologies supports Bernie’s Book Bank, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing book ownership among under-served children in the Chicagoland area. Mannelly mentioned the finalists for the trophy assist come together for community service, assisting the organization and several under-privileged kids near Chicago.

“What Bernie’s Book Bank is, is that they acquire books and delivering to at-risk, under-served youth around the Chicagoland area,” Mannelly explained. “They have now surpassed 25 million books that they’ve given out the Chicagoland area, which is amazing. I’ve done it a few times, and we do it every Friday when the finalists come in town the day before the award [ceremony]. We go to a one of the under-served schools, and we deliver the books. It’s a bag of about eight books that each kid gets, and they finally get to take books home because a lot of these kids don’t have books in their home, and to see their faces light up when they get these books. It’s amazing.”

“It’s a moving thing for [the finalists], too, because they get down there like that was amazing. Yeah, we get him up early and driving from the northern boroughs, the Southside of Chicago and they look tired when they get there but when they leave is really rewarding for them as well. Oh, yeah. Really cool opportunity for them.”

The award was given to NC State’s Joe Shimko for the 2023 season. Shimko, a five-year starter for the Wolfpack, didn’t miss a single snap in his entire collegiate career. That level of perfection is expected of all long snappers to even be semifinalists, though, let alone finalists or winners. Of course, that is to be expected for an award of Mannelly’s namesake, considering he didn’t botch a single snap in any of his 2,282 attempts. He indicated it’s difficult to figure out who’s better, but there are certain factors they look for.

“Well, that’s the thing is, none of these guys [miss snaps]. It’s really hard to figure out which one is better, but what’s great is we have a great panel of experts that have their eyes on these kids that actually really know how to evaluate a long snapper. To me, if I was a college kid and was a finalist, just even recognizing the weeks and months before, you know that the trained eye’s looking at you and giving you the pat on the back and everything. The winner at the end is really truly the nation’s top college long snapper, which is cool, and I think those guys know that. The panel of [guys] like Dave Wannstedt, former NFL coach, special teams coach, we have numerous former NFL long snappers, Robbie Gould, we have another kicker, as well, Rich Gosselin, who was with the Dallas Morning News who had the NFL special teams rankings, he knows what he’s looking at, as well. Phil Steele, and just numerous people that really verify this award and these kids that to figure out which one is the best.”

During his time with the Bears, Mannelly was a part of some incredibly talented special teams units. Perhaps no group pops to the mind of the team’s fans quite like their 2006 roster, which ended up winning the NFC and appearing in Super Bowl XLI. Of the five special teams spots on that season’s Pro Bowl roster, three of them were Bears. Kicker Robbie Gould, special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo and kick returner Devin Hester all made appearances in Hawaii that year. Factor in Mannelly and punter Brad Maynard also being a part of the group, and there truly was no weakness in the third phase.

“It starts with Dave Toub,” Mannelly said of the group. “We got to give him the credit. He’s the special teams coach, the mastermind, the guy that set the standard for us, and that standard was really high. And obviously Devin Hester...that’s a generational talent. He’s a Hall of Famer — hopefully he gets in this year. He changed the whole equation, but it started with Dave Toub also scheming up the returns, coaching up Devin Hester, putting in some of the fakes we had, and like I said, setting a standard for everybody. Then, you have guys like Brendan Ayanbadejo, that was also a standard setter, because he was so darn good at it. We went to Corey Graham later on, [and] Tim Shaw were the other guys that came in that room that fit right in, and it stayed with that standard. That’s what it was, man, it was just every day, we wanted to be the best in the league.”

Perhaps Mannelly’s biggest impact to the game of football was how he approached the rotation of his snaps. He counted the rotations of the football to ensure his snaps had the laces of the football facing outward, making it easier and quicker for the holder to get the ball down with proper placement. He mentions Doc Spurgeon as an influence when he was in high school at Marist School in Georgia, asking him to attempt to get the laces facing out. Mannelly had a feel for the ball and was able to execute in a specific way that nobody had done to that point.

Since his retirement in 2014, Mannelly has been involved in sports media, serving as an analyst for NBC Sports Chicago and 670 The Score. As a member of the media, he acknowledges the key question in many Bears fans’ minds: does the team keep Justin Fields, or do they draft a quarterback in the 2024 NFL Draft? He remains undecided to this point.

“You turn on sports talk radio, and it’s the hot topic,” Mannelly said jokingly. “I don’t have the answer yet. He has four more games to go, but I think this last week’s game was exactly who he is: throw for 230 yards and rush for 60-to-100 yards. If he limits the turnovers, I think you can win with that, but what scares me is it sustainable with him running that much. You saw against Detroit, the hits he’s taking. He’s already been injured once with the thumb; he’s been injured before. I just don’t know if that’s sustainable, but if you could say he’s not going to get injured, and you give me those stats every week, that he’s going to account for what 2 to 3 touchdowns, either running or passing, I would be okay with it. As far as the first pick, I think you really have to be 100% sold. If you’re going to go with a Caleb Williams, a Drake Maye or somebody else.”

“I think if you did keep Justin Fields and took all that draft capital and built around him, you could be successful. Are you going to be in the conversation like Patrick Mahomes: every year, they’re probably to the Super Bowl, or Joe burrow when he’s healthy, they’re going to be the Super Bowl? I don’t know, but I think they’ll be very good.”